Aw makes case for youngsters

Philippe Aw
Philippe Aw

Axed Hougang coach believes developing local talents is the way forward for Singapore

In his 31/2 years as a head coach in the S-League and then the Singapore Premier League (SPL), Philippe Aw developed a reputation for not only nurturing talented young footballers but also daring to give them a chance.

But youth and inexperience, as well as a lack of goals, ultimately cost the Hougang United head coach his job, as he parted ways with the Cheetahs last Sunday. The axing followed a winless 10-game sequence this season.

While Hougang finished sixth among nine teams last term, they are rooted at the bottom of the league this season with three draws and seven losses from 10 matches, scoring a league low of seven goals and conceding 21 goals.

Assistant coach Clement Teo has been appointed caretaker coach, with Hougang facing Balestier Khalsa this Sunday.

Aw, 40, acknowledged that the axe would have fallen "sooner or later" based on the results because Hougang "created chances but couldn't finish them".

Hougang vice-captain Fabian Kwok said: "Generally we are a very young team and don't really have experienced players this season. For most games we have been creating the chances, but most times we don't have the experience to get the goals and the results."

As a "pro-Singapore" coach, Aw stuck with local forwards Iqbal Hussain, 25, Fareez Farhan, 23, and Shahfiq Ghani, 26, instead of signing a proven foreign striker or senior local forward. Italian forward Antoine Viterale, 21, is also part of the Cheetahs squad, but played just four games this season.

LONG-TERM THINKING

If the local clubs produce 18 youngsters (in total) and half of them play well, Singapore football will get nine young players who could contribute to the national team.

PHILIPPE AW, former Hougang United head coach, on why he gives young Singaporean players a chance.

"Some of the rest of the teams have prolific foreign strikers like (Warriors' Jonathan) Behe and Song (Ui Yong, Home United), while Tampines have experienced local strikers such as Fazrul (Nawaz) and (Khairul Amri)," he said.

He did this because he felt that there is a gap in experience among the local strikers and he wanted to bridge that gap by grooming Iqbal and Fareez.

While Shawal Anuar, capped five times for Singapore, has bagged six goals for Geylang International, Aw noted that there is a gap - in age and experience - between senior Lions such as Amri and Fazrul, both 33, and the Young Lions' 19-year-old forward Ikhsan Fandi, who has four goals this season.

Aw, who groomed the likes of R. Aaravin, Shahrin Saberin, Syahiran Miswan and Amir Zalani at his previous club Home United, also promoted "six or seven Prime League players" to his senior team this season, with the league mandating that the six local clubs have at least six Under-23 players in their squad, with a minimum of three in their starting XI.

The Hougang squad have an average age of 21.9 years, significantly younger than the likes of eighth-placed Warriors (25.4 years) and second-placed Tampines Rovers (25.5 years).

Aw urged the game's officials to continue giving youth a chance, saying: "We will suffer these few years, but people need to be patient in giving these young players a chance.

"If the local clubs produce 18 youngsters (in total) and half of them play well, Singapore football will get nine young players who could contribute to the national team."

He also expressed his gratitude "for the support Hougang have given to my cause for the past 11/2 seasons".

Kwok reckons the team will continue to play the "better" type of football Aw used to preach at the Hougang Stadium, despite the latter's departure.

For now, Aw, a former winger, aims to spend time with his three children. But he added: "Football has been a big part of my life and it will continue to be. This is a minor setback, but I am optimistic that I will come back a better person."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2018, with the headline 'Aw makes case for youngsters'. Print Edition | Subscribe